Remote conflict managment: how do we tackle this?
‘The New Normal’ coined to define assumptions, experiences and expectations about the implications of the wide spread Covid-19 breakout on o.a. the workforce brings with it its own set of opportunities. As well as the potential for disruption on the way managers and team members interact and manage conflict. Though conflict in itself is neutral and can have a transformational effect. Experiencing, preventing and managing it remotely is a somewhat different ballgame.
Morrison-Smith and Ruiz (2020) provided with an extensive overview of the challenges and barriers that virtual teams have to overcome in order to collaborate effectively. Their continued work shows that HR professionals should take into account numerous items in order to set up an effective strategy.
Some sectors had more experience with the difficulties that arise when teams need to collaborate remotely. However many companies where not fully prepared to shift gear ad hoc and offer complete digital solutions and coping strategies to their new work-from-home force. It is primarily for these companies that we offer some best practices for preventing and managing conflicts remotely. The points listed below can be used to structure the relationship between team members as well as the one employees have with their manager. It is a call to action that is by no means complete but rather the starting point for reflection.
1. Expectations are to be set out from the start
Resentment can pop-up when some can’t shake the feeling that certain team members aren’t pulling their weight. While an office can provide with the opportunity to keep tabs of the work of others and reflect on the reality of certain sentiments, remote working does not always do so. A clear set-up from the start in which responsibilities and expectations towards each individual are communicated for the whole team is needed. This also gives team members the opportunities to voice certain hesitations. That being said, not everyone feels comfortable with the stage that is presented to them. A manager should remain sensitive and actively connect with individual members. if signs pop up that expectations are not realistic; redefining and recommunicating these to the team is the next step. Of course consecutive follow-up communication needs to be done throughout the entire work-from home process. A layout of the formal and informal communication and meeting points should also be given from the start.
2. Effective communication equals preparation and actual communication
When working remotely, it is vital that team members are kept in the loop about all relevant activities, current and future projects throughout the stay-at-home period. Before opening up the Team window or sending a quick email, a manager should reflect on the purpose, receiver and objective of his or her communication. Abstract communication or no communication at all leaves employees guessing. This can install a sense of exclusion and foster resentment. Again, keep touching base on whether or not everyone has understood the objective. Employees should, at their turn, do the same and ask themselves if certain sentiments validate their next step in communication. Impulsive messages can do more damage as there is not always a way to bring ample nuance.
3. Install formal and informal tools of communication to focus on connection
The level of confidence that resides between virtual teams impacts their ability to resolve disputes. If management offers and promotes ready to use tools to interact on a more personal level, these can be used to keep the connection alive and prevent a melting pot situation. Using slack for coffee breaks or instant messages seems not so foreign anymore. A platform allows for a similar touching base moment to discuss any glitches in communication away from the all-seeing corporate eye. Because conflict can arise between any employee; make sure that these meetings include al hierarchical levels of the company. Devise a procedure on witch channels should be used for formal communication, team meetings, meetings between individuals and 121’s.
4. Define clear guidelines to how conflict needs to be dealt with
Although the previous points can give a forum to discuss matters before they spiral out of control, one should not be naïve. The truth of the matter is that sometimes personalities just don’t click. Professionalism amongst co-workers does not prevent that people can clash. Employees should be given the opportunity to manage it themselves. Secondly, when the time comes that this strategy does not work management should present a plan to mitigate and settle the argument to an optimal level. The company culture largely defines the specific lay-out of such guidelines. The end goal should however promote business continuity and not a happily ever after story.